Why continued gridlock on Capitol Hill?

February 21, 2013

Feb. 21, 2013                       Ken Bickers

Despite Obama winning the presidential election and afterwards Republicans and Democrats saying it’s time to work together on passing legislation, nothing has changed and once again gridlock rules Capital Hill. Why is that?

There’s an easy answer, says Ken Bickers, a political scientist at CU-Boulder. But, he says, you might be surprised because part of the problem is us.

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Why continued gridlock on Capitol Hill?

Feb. 21, 2013                       Ken Bickers

Despite Obama winning the presidential election and afterwards Republicans and Democrats saying it’s time to work together on passing legislation, nothing has changed and once again gridlock rules Capital Hill. Why is that?

There’s an easy answer, says Ken Bickers, a political scientist at CU-Boulder. But, he says, you might be surprised because part of the problem is us.

 CUT 1 “The two parties are far apart and the two parties are far apart because their constituents are far apart. (:08) That’s why elections matter. It sends a signal to the members of the House and the Senate that the public wants to move in a particular direction. And that’s not a signal we’ve been seeing for the last few years because the voters are electing Conservatives on the one hand and Liberals on the other and no one in the middle.” (:30)

Just how far apart are the two sides? According to Bickers, if you look at the individual voting records of the liberal and conservative members in Congress we have a situation that is extremely unusual, even for Congress.

CUT 2 “As of four years ago we had a situation that had never existed in the 20th Century. Not once. Which is that the most conservative Democrat was more liberal than the most liberal Republican. (:16) There was no overlap in the voting behavior of members of the House and the Senate so that there is no overlap anymore. There’s no cross-party middle in Washington, D.C.” (:30)

Bicker says it’s probably too soon to see if that will continue with the current Congress. But he also says there’s no reason to think that it won’t be true again and that’s because with only a week to go before automatic budget cuts go into affect neither the president nor Congress are acting as if they want to agree on a budget.

CUT 3  “They all say they want to try to do something about it and they’ve all been on vacation during this period just weeks out from this sequester taking affect. (:10) It doesn’t appear that members of the Congress or the president think that it’s going to be that big of a deal. At least looking at their behavior.” (:18)

Bicker says, from a historical perspective, to understand how unique this situation is there’s only one other time in American history when Congress was so split down the middle.

CUT 4 “The period before the Civil War and than the period after the Civil War during the late reconstructing period where the presidency was flipping back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, Congress was flipping back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. (:15) That was a period that, if you’re looking for historical analogs, comes the closest to what we see now. But no one alive today has ever seen anything like this - we’ve not experienced politics like we’re seeing right now.” (:31)

-CU-

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